Leave it to Bill Belichick to create a controversy regarding which players he uses on his extra-point protection unit. In what can only be chalked up as a fluke occurrence, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a serious injury late in Sunday's win over Indianapolis -- not while catching a touchdown pass or blocking for Tom Brady, but while on the field for a late extra point.
Prior to suffering his injury Sunday, Gronkowski caught his ninth and 10th touchdown passes of the season, making him just the third tight end in NFL history to reach double digits in TDs three straight years. The Patriots are in great shape in the AFC East, with a three-game lead heading into Week 12, but they trail the Ravens and Texans in the race for a playoff bye.
How long will Gronkowski be sidelined? SI.com injury expert Will Carroll offers his thoughts on that and several other key injuries from Sunday's action:
• Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots (forearm): The Patriots' sensational tight end broke his forearm late Sunday, reportedly on his team's final extra point in a 59-24 win. He underwent surgery Monday.
Carroll: Bones heal. People often think I'm being flip when I say this, but it is just this simple. Bones break, bones heal, and it is easy to check on them as they do. X-ray machines are available and simple, beyond the normal predictability of bone healing time. Gronkowski's fractured ulna was plated in a simple surgery Monday morning to align the bone and to make sure it heals properly, while also offering some protection. The normal healing time for something like this is six weeks, but it will be possible to see Gronkowski back before then if the bone is stable and protected. It should not affect his ability to catch since there was no muscle or nerve issue.
Who takes his spot?: New England hopes to have Aaron Hernandez back Thursday for a holiday showdown with the Jets. He'd pick up a lot of the receiving duties, with the rest of the Patriots' tight ends (Daniel Fells, Visanthe Shiancoe and Michael Hoomanawanui) potentially asked to block more.
• Byron Leftwich, QB, Steelers (ribs/shoulder): Leftwich appeared to be playing injured for the last 59 minutes or so of Sunday night's loss to Baltimore. He grabbed for his right (throwing) shoulder after tumbling into the end zone on an early touchdown, then doubled over after several hits.
Carroll: Reports from Pittsburgh have Byron Leftwich suffering from a rib injury. Sources tell me that he does have bruised ribs and is generally sore after being knocked around in his Sunday start. He should be able to heal up over the next week, filling in again for Ben Roethlisberger as he completes his healing from his clavicle/rib issue. The hits he took from the Ravens can't make the Steelers feel good about perhaps having Roethlisberger back for their next game -- the fractured rib couldn't take the hits that Leftwich did safely, even with a couple more weeks of healing.
Who takes his spot?: With Ben Roethlisberger likely out another game (and possibly longer), longtime vet Charlie Batch would be forced into duty against Cleveland if Leftwich cannot go.
• Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jaguars (elbow): The Jaguars initially announced that Gabbert was probable to return Sunday after taking a hit on his elbow early. They later downgraded him to questionable -- and now, it's unclear exactly how long he'll be out of action.
Carroll: Gabbert bruised his elbow early in Sunday's game and could not complete his normal throwing motion due to pain and inflammation. One source tells me that Gabbert could have come back after halftime, but that Chad Henne's performance made it possible to just let Gabbert sit and heal. That's definitely what you want out of a backup. Gabbert should not miss much time from this elbow, but Henne's performance might make the elbow a convenient excuse for sitting him next week.
Who takes his spot?: Chad Henne stunned everyone with a stellar performance Sunday. Even if Gabbert can play in Week 12, Henne may get the nod.
Carroll: One of the toughest jobs an NFL medical staff has is protecting players from themselves. They want to be on the field for each and every play. For some it is ego, for some it is fear, but for most, it is self-image. Julio Jones was seen last week talking his way back out on the field after an ankle sprain and he did it again before this week's game. He aggravated the injury and finished with just three catches, which sets him back to where he was this time last week. Jones should be in line to play, but the medical staff is going to have to tug harder on his leash if he's not ready.
• LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles (head): Adding injury to insult Sunday, McCoy took a scary helmet-to-helmet hit very late in the fourth quarter of Philadelphia's blowout loss to Washington. He was diagnosed with a concussion.
Carroll: McCoy, I am told, did not lose consciousness, but was very altered for a period of time and was experiencing a "blasting headache." He was treated and will be monitored under the league's concussion policy. It's impossible to put a timeframe on any concussion as the symptoms are different in every case, but McCoy has to be thought of as questionable even with the extra day they get heading into a Monday game next week.
Who takes his spot?: McCoy has an extra day to recover with the Eagles off until next Monday, but it's a safe bet that rookie Bryce Brown will start at running back instead.
• Willis McGahee, RB, Broncos (knee): Broncos coach John Fox said that McGahee's knee "swelled up on him" during Sunday's win over San Diego. McGahee was set for an MRI Monday to determine the severity of his injury.
Carroll: Some of the toughest injuries to deal with in the NFL are ones that are chronic in nature or that do not have a single defining mechanism of injury. It's easy to see where most players were hit, where they rolled their ankle, or where the bone broke. For McGahee, his knee just started to swell up with no defining event. That's not to say there wasn't, but there is no known event. McGahee's history of knee issues makes this a bit complicated, but he also knows the knee pretty well. He'll have an MRI and will be treated and monitored, but McGahee does not believe this one is serious. We'll see if he can get back out on the field in any capacity this week. If so, it's a sign he was right.
• Jeff Backus, OT, Lions (hamstring): Backus has started an incredible 186 consecutive games, but his status for Thanksgiving Day is up in the air after he hobbled off with a hamstring injury Sunday.
Carroll: Start No. 187 is in doubt, as Backus was in significant pain and has a history with both that leg and with serious muscle strains. Early signs are bad for him, and this type of injury makes it difficult to fire out of a stance, something any tackle is going to need to do.
Who takes his spot?: Rookie Riley Reiff filled Backus' spot at left tackle. It did not go well -- Reiff struggled throughout the second half against Green Bay. The Lions don't really have any other options, though.
• Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs (neck): Bowe landed hard after going up to try to make a catch, then almost immediately headed to the locker room. There was no word on exactly what happened, beyond that Bowe had not suffered a concussion.
Carroll: Head? Neck? There's some confusion over what Bowe's injury is, but note that teams that are trying to smokescreen us and avoid saying concussion normally do that first. The Chiefs seemed to do the right thing, checking Bowe initially for head trauma and then correcting to say the problem is with his neck. Bowe's head did whip into the field pretty hard, but the connection between head and neck often makes this kind of thing co-morbid, much in the way that happened with Jamaal Charles a couple weeks back. Who takes his spot?: Jonathan Baldwin did not play Sunday, either, so the Chiefs were limited. Terrence Copper replaced Baldwin following his injury.